Microsoft Looks to be Finding Its Footing with the Surface RT 32GB Tablet

On July 29, 2013, Mary Jo Foley posted an article to ZD Net: Did Walmart just sell out of Microsoft Surface RTs?. We just confirmed this news ourselves with a visit to the Walmart web site.

This is good news for Microsoft®. It may signal a bottom for their efforts to enter the consumer market for mobile devices (at least tablet computers) and a turn towards positive results, especially if other prominent brick and mortar retailers like Best Buy®.

We also liked what we saw of the enterprise business preview of Windows 8.1 released on July 30, 2013.

Perhaps no company is in a better position to speak to the needs of enterprise IT organizations than Microsoft. The preview presented new features of Windows 8.1 specifically designed to provide PC and Network administrators with tools to streamline the task of migrating users to the new platform. Other tools designed to enhance business computing trends — mainly mobility — have been added to the platform.

This marketing collateral speaks at length to the needs of the administrative teams supporting end users. In contrast to the marketing collateral published when Windows 8 was released, the touch feature option is not emphasized. A lengthy section talks about Apps, the Windows Store, and workarounds for organizations looking for other ways to migrate applications to the new platform.

But what about the large installed base of computers with the Windows XP operating system in use at enterprises and comparably sized organizations in the public sector? From what we’ve seen of the documentation on how to upgrade these older systems, there is still too much ambiguity about whether or not existing hardware will or will not support newer operating systems, not to mention Windows 8.1. We aren’t sure Microsoft can do much more to lessen the difficulty of this experience for this portion of its customer base. As well, we aren’t sure the organizations supporting these computers will want to step through the custom installations likely to be required for Windows 7, and, perhaps, 8.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Why Isn’t Flash Player Available for Most Tablets?

We own a Samsung Galaxy Note 2.1 10.1. Our business requires us to frequent websites with Shockwave features, which require Flash player on clients. But our tablet does not support Flash Player. So we can’t use our tablet to visit some of the websites we use on a daily basis. At least we couldn’t until we bought a Puffin Browser for our tablet. We will write more about the Puffin Browser in another post to this blog, but for our purposes in this post, we will simply say the Puffin Browser works.

Who benefits when consumers like us cannot access the services they require with computing devices? We aren’t sure. But we are confident somebody eventually benefits from constructing a serious obstacle between consumers and successful use of tablets (built with ARM chips) to access the information they need. (Note: the Microsoft Surface RT is a notable exception to the “ARM Chip/no Flash Player” rule. Flash Player works fine on the Surface RT)

Laptops, desktop computers, and even hybrid laptop/tablet computers are all entirely capable of supporting Flash Player. So we think it’s safe to say excluding tablet users from accessing Shockwave features on websites benefits PC manufacturers. At least two of these manufacturers are also prominent manufacturers of consumer printers — Dell and HP. Adobe, who also happens to be the ISV behind Flash Player and Shockwave, has deep relationships with each of the printer manufacturers (after all, Adobe is also the ISV behind PostScript).

It’s also important to keep in mind two other facts:

  1. Steve Jobs spoke publicly about Apple’s decision not to support Flash Player with the first iPad tablets
  2. and Google, the ISV behind Android, has its own video player for Youtube

Given the above points the whole issue of Flash player and tablets is controversial. At present it appears Adobe is highly selective about just which tablet manufacturers can support Flash Player.

When we consider this problem, we can’t help but think the industry has cannibalized itself.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Collecting Information About Retail Customer Behavior Inside Retail Stores Makes Sense

Stephanie Clifford and Quentin Hardy authored an article, Attention Shoppers: Store is Tracking Your Cell, which was published on July 15, 2013 in the online edition of The New York Times. We’re interested in this topic, meaning technology to track the behavior of retail customers within a store. As far back as 2002 we had some involvement with ISVs developing solutions for the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) market. These ISVs were working on very similar technology.

The systems Ms. Clifford and Mr. Hardy describe work within a different computing paradigm: namely WiFi management within a building. By tracking cellphone WiFi usage, ISVs have built methods to compile visit logs for individual customers. We agree with the article authors, the public concern about invasion of privacy issues around the collection of this information is certainly inconsistent with public attitudes about tracking cookies on websites. But there is an important difference. Some website visitor notices about the use of tracking cookies include a warning of a loss of functionality if cookies are not enabled in browsers. Bottom line: “If you visit our site and don’t use cookies, you won’t get the benefit of what we offer”. Perhaps reailers who want to use the technology described in the article should include similar language.

ISVs with technology brick and mortar retailers can use to compile this type of information have a near term opportunity to cash in. There are network and business intelligence components to the technology. We think it will take sometime before retailers can demonstrate relationships between store visits, shelf life for products, and likely buyer behavior. But the starting point, meaning systems to collect the information, appears to be in place.

Of course, there is a side benefit for retailers who choose to implement this technology. They will be able to pinpoint retail customers checking store prices for items against online competitors.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Quickly Recognizing Website Visitors Leads to Shorter Sales Cycles

We use VisualVisitor on this blog and Talking-SharePoint (a week day blog we write for one of our clients, Rehmani Consulting, Inc).

One of our clients is also using the product to quickly identify visitors to several pages on the customer’s website. In both cases we can say the product is contributing to shorter sales cycles. Here’s a couple of examples:

  • Our second online meeting with one of these prospects included the funding decision maker
  • The business information provided by VisualVisitor helped us identify an influential contact who had gained substantial familiarity with our products from a past employer. So this contact turbocharged the process with her endorsement of our product.
  • In a second case our first online meeting will include several contacts. With different groups represented in our first meeting, we will have a better chance to understand how decisions are made at the prospect’s organization
  • We identified website visitors from a couple of deals in progress. By observing the pages they visited on our website, including the length of their visit to each page, we could catch early indication of a change in purchase direction on the part of one prospect.

We don’t know of many businesses likely to complain about a shorter sales cycle.

We are also big users of Google Analytics. So reviewing historical information about website visits collected with VisualVisitor against data collected from Analytics helps us understand better how our overall market is reacting to the marketing collateral we publish on these websites.

It’s also very useful to have access to the search engine queries leading businesses to our websites. One of our clients purchases click ads with Google. When we correlate queries to click ad campaign objectives, we can remediate market place misunderstandings, while, at the same time, we add value to this client’s campaign by helping them fine tune impressions to communicate the right message to a realistic audience, given their objectives.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Avoid Designing New Technology Products Dependent on Parallel Changes Outside of Your Control

On July 10, 2013, Mr. Michael Endler, Associate Editor of Information Week, published an article to the Information Week website: Microsoft Preaches XP Conversion. The problem Mr. Endler describes in his article, amounts to a public relations snafu for Microsoft®.

According to Mr. Endler, approximately 160 million Microsoft Customers for the Windows XP product are stuck on this now obsoleted platform. They can’t migrate up to Windows 8. The hardware they own won’t support the new operating system. PCs and laptops are now out of favor, so consumers have little, if any incentive to spend the money on the new hardware required to run Windows 8. At the same time, the old operating system still works (We, ourselves own a laptop running Windows XP and still use it daily with zero problems).

So what’s the lesson for early stage technology businesses? Don’t design products your customer can only use should he/she buy something from somebody else. This point may seem obvious, but for several product cycles Microsoft implemented the same product strategy. Intel® would introduce a new chip and Microsoft, in turn, would build an operating system designed to exploit the capabilities of the new chip’s kernel. But here’s the catch: Microsoft had no responsibility for the new hardware. From an accounting perspective the new operating system software was very profitable. As well, smartphones, tablets and thin client computers (like Google Chromebook) had not yet hit the market. So the serious vulnerability this product development strategy exposed was, apparently, not a major point of concern for Windows product management.

Now, of course, consumer tastes for computing hardware have changed dramatically. Microsoft is stuck with millions of customers who can only become more dissatisfied, as time goes by, as support for Windows XP falls away. With this conundrum in the spotlight, it shouldn’t be difficult to understand why the Surface initiative was an important step forward for Microsoft as it attempted to correct the product design methodology of the past.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Revisiting Ready Fire Aim Product Development Methods

We last wrote about “Ready, Fire, Aim” product development strategies in early 2012. But we are presently working with a couple of clients who have implemented the same strategy. So it makes sense for us to take a post to this blog to update our position on the method.

While we understand why this method makes sense for many early stage technology businesses, we still must express our strong advice to very closely monitor product performance, together with market perception of product performance, as products designed with this methodology are rolled out to the public for purchase.

“Ready, fire aim” does not include enough product testing time. So we advise clients to actually expand product testing as cash becomes available to pay for beta programs, etc. Product testing should include not only the technical performance of the product, but also the product concept. Manufacturers need to test the assumptions about markets upon which products were originally conceptualized. It’s best to pour cash into testing efforts earlier than later.

Early stage technology businesses implementing this technique should also make the best effort possible to carefully pick the customers who will be first to implement the products in targeted markets. Certainly revenue is a tough driver on this one. Most technology businesses will jump at an opportunity to service a large and influential customer very early in a product cycle. But why take the risk of closing a big sale with a prestigious and influential customer only to find your product is not working as advertised? A much better strategy would look to see the market at the periphery with some early sales to ensure the product is working as advertised and as expected.

Where possible, we advise not using a “Ready, Fire, Aim” method of building products. So, if possible, make sure to carefully position and prove your product concept before you build it.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Investor Interests in Early Stage Technology Businesses Can Provide Telltale Indicators of a Product Cycle Peak

We think studying investment decisions made by venture capital firms is a useful activity. The CEOs of early stage technology businesses gain important insights into product life cycles by observing how the venture capital financing sector opts to commit its cash. From what we can see, we think the personal computing paradigm, which has been in place since the mid 1980s, is approaching an important crossroads. We wouldn’t be surprised if innovation grinds to a halt as this movement plays out.

On June 30, 2013, the Venture Beat website published an article authored by Navin Chadda, A ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ approach to Venture Capital. Mr. Chadda summarizes findings presented in the most recently published year book of the National Venture Capital Association: “Key findings include:

◾In 2012, the VC industry raised $20 billion vs. the almost $100 billion in 2000;
◾92% of this capital went to existing managers (vs. first-time managers) and 48% went to 10 large firms;
◾Overall, about 522 firms are estimated to be active, and some believe this number even lower closer to 100 defined as firms that have made at least 4 investments over the last year;
◾The median fund size for 2012 was $150 million, and the overall deal pace has come down to slightly over 750 investments per quarter;
◾Although some momentum companies are being bid up, valuations are trending lower overall according to Dow Jones Venture Source data.” (quoted from Mr. Chadda’s article, a link to which has been provided above).

Across the board, the venture capital community is operating at a mere fraction of its former self (by “former self” we mean the level of activity Mr. Chadda reports for 2000, the start of the “Dot Com” era). We’re not sure this is good or bad news. All we can say is things are slowing down, dramatically. With a lot less capital flowing into early stage technology businesses from this sector, some proportion of innovation will slow down, as well.

The result will be status quo, at least for the foreseeable future.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


ISVs Should Thoroughly Manage Public Relations Efforts for New Products to Capture Targeted Results

Public relations collateral — press releases, news articles, public appearances — must be micro managed by ISVs to produce targeted results. Microsoft® recently debuted a free app for Office for the iPhone. The public relations campaign for this product should have been better managed to provide Microsoft with a product introduction to the small, smart mobile device market worth the effort.

The iPhone Office app breaks new ground. Microsoft eschews the recent strategy of forcing markets into the Microsoft scalable computing architecture (including PCs, the Surface Tablet, and Windows Phone 8), and, instead, brings the Office suite to the most prominent example of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend in enterprise computing, the iPhone. So this should be a huge win, with substantial public approval, right?

Not so fast. The Wall Street Journal editorial team, a set of entrenched Microsoft skeptics, managed to turn this very promising new product and the new direction in product marketing it exemplifies, into a no better than a “C-” quality set of announcements. On June 18, 2013, Ms. Katherine Boehret, produced a write up on the iPhone Office app launch for the Journal’s “The Digital Solution” column: At Work With Microsoft Office on an iPhone .

We think Microsoft’s Public Relations team should have better managed Ms. Boehret’s introduction to this product. The point she makes about the need for an Office 365 account, for example, is really not an issue for what we can’t help but take to be the market for this app: employees working for enterprise businesses. Most of these organizations maintain Office 365 accounts. So the $100.00 annual cost for a basic subscription to Office 365 will not be an impediment to enterprise IT’s plan to outfit personnel with this app.

Her point about a missing Outlook component for the app is also not much of an issue. Microsoft recently debuted Outlook as a cloud application, which will certainly be accessible to any iPhone owner with the above mentioned Office 365 account. In fact, it’s easy to sign up for the free Outlook online Software as a Service (SaaS) offer without an Office 365 account.

But these points were portrayed in her article as big issues, marring an otherwise “beautiful” app. To repeat: we think Microsoft’s Public Relations team could have done a better job introducing Ms. Boehret to this new product. Perhaps her observations of internal struggle at Microsoft about the new strategy as a reason for the less than satisfactory design of the iPhone Office app are accurate.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Markets Seem Oblivious to Security Risks of Small Smart Mobile Devices

On July 5, 2013, the TechCrunch website posted an article authored by Ms. Natasha Lomas, “Android ‘Master Key’ Security Hole Puts 99% of Devices At Risk of Exploitation”. Despite our hope they will react otherwise, we think consumer markets will continue to operate “as usual” and continue to purchase small, smart mobile devices built on the Android O/S.

As we wrote over a year ago, we think this complacent market attitude will only change if financial institutions retreat from their long standing commitment to absorb the cost of any breaches of online security systems, and start passing them through directly to consumers. We don’t see these institutions changing this position any time soon. Further, the well publicized intention of the U.S. Dept. of Defense, to protect the security of U.S. Ethernet networks and websites, reinforces the reasonableness of our assumption.

One would think an article like this one, by Ms. Lomas, would prompt consumers to look closer at competitive devices from Microsoft®. After all, Windows 8 is a proprietary operating system. Further, we think Microsoft has expended a considerable energy over the last year, or more, to build a brand for itself as THE most secure cloud services provider. But the continued misses of Microsoft’s public relations and marketing communications efforts for consumer markets will likely undermine any advantage they would otherwise gain from this article.

Pricing also plays a role here. Tablets and smartphones built on the Android O/S are, for most consumers, the least expensive option. In contrast, Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet is the most expensive “stock” option (the 64GB version is about $70.00 more expensive than a comparable iPad). Consumers will simply expect each Android OEM to provide them with a fix for the security hole publicized in Ms. Lomas’ article. But even if this hole is plugged, others may soon come to light.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


When Content Marketing is Used with an Appeal to Authority ISVs can Turn Market Sentiment — for Better or Worse

On July 3, 2013, Michael Hickens, the Editor of the Wall Street Journal blog, CIO, published a post on Ford Motor Company, ‘The Morning Download: Ford Test-Drives Software-Driven Manufacturing’. This piece is an example of the power of a combination of content marketing, with an appeal to authority. Early stage technology businesses looking for a marketing communications strategy to either create a groundswell of market sentiment, or a method to shift unfavorable market sentiment will do well to consider this combination of tactics.

Any student of industrial automation and process control systems can see the hyperbole in the title to Mr. Hickens’ post. Certainly Ford Motor Company, and each of its peers in the automotive industry have been using “Software-Driven Manufacturing” since the early 1970s. So what’s really new about the current effort Ford Motor has undertaken? This short post doesn’t delve into the details. Rather, it merely names to each of the prestigious stakeholders in this new technology — Boeing Corporation, the Massachusetss Institute of Technology, and the U. S. Dept. of Energy — and reports the approach is something along the lines of 3D Printing technology. The reader is then left to find out the additional specifics required to put the real news story together.

The title to this short post implies there is something new about all of this. Unsuspecting readers will likely assume the technology is earth-shaking given the stakeholders and the Mr. Hickens’ use of terms.

A lot of online marketing communications follow this same formula. Pick someone with a reputation to write a keyword-rich article on technology familiar to your customers and you’ll likely achieve the change in sentiment objective you’re after. LinkedIn’s Influencer feature is a perfect example of this type of content marketing.

In this article we think Mr. Hickens is making an effort to paint Ford Motor with the colors of a leading technology innovator. Unfortunately those with a knowledge of the history of process control and industrial automation will, in all likelihood, simply look back, with regret at the real era of innovation for this industry back in the early 1970s. Somehow influential media missed it way back then . . .

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved